Video: 1 Driver, 1 Bentley, 24 Hours of Le Mans | Henry Catchpole – The Driver’s Seat

Posted: 2023-06-07 15:00:22
Author: Hagerty
The Le Mans 24hrs race has borne witness to some incredible feats of endurance in its 100 year history. But as the race celebrates its centenary in 2023 with the new Hypercars from manufacturers like Ferrari, Porsche, Cadillac and Toyota, we drive a Bentley from the 1930s that competed in 1950 and finished eighth. Why? because its driver (there’s a clue in there) did something extraordinary.

Eddie Hall (not the World’s Strongest Man) is the only person in the history of Le Mans to drive the entire 24-hour race on his own. What’s more, he did this when he was 50 years old and in a car that was 16 years old at the time. It wasn’t the intention of the ACO that anyone should drive the whole race single-handed, but they hadn’t specifically forbidden it because they presumably thought no one would be mad enough. After Hall’s exploits, however, it was written into the rules, so his feat will never be repeated.

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The car is interesting too, because it is an early Derby Bentley that started life with a 3.5-litre engine but was upgraded to 4.25-litres by the factory and also acquired new bodywork in 1936. In fact Rolls-Royce (who owned Bentley at the the time) didn’t want to go racing, but the company did agree to support Hall in his exploits. Today the car belongs to The Revs Institute in Florida which keeps it in fine running order.

We also snuck in a quick drive in the closest modern equivalent to the old car, namely a new Bentley Continental GTC S. Suffice to say that if one were to attempt 24hrs non-stop in this turbocharged V8 with its massage seats and NAIM stereo, it would be a relative piece of cake. Of course the weather was delightful when Henry was driving this car that possesses a roof and rather more soggy when he was in the old, roofless car. C’est la vie.

We hope you enjoy the film – are there any other pre-war cars that you’d like to see Henry Catchpole try to squeeze his lanky frame into? If so, let us know in the comments down below. Many thanks, as ever, for watching, sharing, subscribing and remembering to switch on your headlights when the weather is foggy. And if you’re in the US and you haven’t done so already, please do think about joining the Hagerty Drivers Club – not only is it great, it also helps us to keep making videos like this!

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Hagerty Video Transcript

– This film is partly about a car, but it’s more about one man and his incredible story. You’ve all heard, I’m sure, of the Bentley Boys, those bon vivants of the 1920s and ’30s. Names like Woolf “Babe” Barnato, Dr. Benjy Benjafield, Glen Kidston, Sir Henry Tim Birkin. But there is somebody else, someone that’s not necessarily usually considered as a Bentley Boy. You won’t find his name listed on Wikipedia.

He’s not famous, but he is definitely deserving of fame. His name is Eddie Ramsden Hall. He had that quality that I think all the Bentley Boys had, that of being the quintessential polymath. So he was a mountaineer, he was part of the five-man bobsled team that took part in the 1928 Olympics. He was also a photographer.

He did a book which had photographs of figure skating in it. Curious, I know, but shows his diverse interests. And of course, he loved motor racing. He was known initially for his successes with a MG K3, particularly at Brooklands. But then he bought a Bentley

As sort of the ancestor of this GTC S. This is Chassis B-35 AE, currently owned by the wonderful Revs Institute, but originally bought by Eddie Hall in 1934. Now at that point in time, it had a three and a half liter engine and looked a bit different, but more of that later. When he bought the car, well, how would you run a car in? How about doing 4,000 miles, using it as a recce car for the Mille Miglia. He was going to compete in the Miglia, in fact in an MG, but he was so impressed with this that he instantly thought it should be used as a race car at some point. Now, Rolls-Royce weren’t in the habit of doing race programs, but they did agree to help him. So it wasn’t official factory team, but it was factory supported. A couple of things to mention. Firstly, as you can see, we brought some very British mixed weather with us to the state of Georgia. Secondly, if you would like to help us pay for consistently sunnier warmer locations in future, then perhaps just have a ponder

About signing up for a Hagerty Driver’s Club Membership. Amongst other things, it comes with access to the Hagerty Valuation Tool, lots of exclusive offers, 24-hour roadside assistance and Hagerty’s lovely magazine, sometimes with words by me. But you can always skip those, like I know you were tempted to do

With this bit of the film, but thank you for listening. Now thirdly, some of you might be wondering what all this talk of Rolls-Royce is about when the car has a Bentley Badge. So here’s a quick, slightly sunnier recap. In 1929, the Wolf Street crash put a bit of a dampener

On people’s desires for big expensive cars. And by 1931, Bentley’s debts were so great that not even the deep pockets of Woolf Barnato could save them. So they went into receivership. Now, Napier wanted to buy the company, but at the last minute, they were beaten by a sealed bid

From the British Central Equitable Trust. Who are they, you might be wondering, and indeed, Bentley themselves were a little bit puzzled. But it turns out that was just a front for Rolls-Royce. They immediately shut down the factories and set about developing a new car,

The three and a half liter that we have here. Now, this was based on a 2025, which some people thought was a bit of a shame, just sort of badge engineering really. But WO himself said it was better than any other car with a Bentley badge on. Praise, indeed.

But because it was essentially a Rolls-Royce underneath, it made no sense to build it at Cricklewood. So they sold that factory and started producing it in Derby. Hence, Derby Bentleys. Hall entered the revamped car for the 24 hours of Le Mans in 1936. But well, the race was canceled,

Because of workers in France saying no and striking. And that might have been the unassuming end of the story, but it wasn’t, because after a short interlude for a world war, Hall decided to have another go at Le Mans to celebrate his 50th birthday. And that’s when it gets really interesting, because in 1950, Eddie Hall using a car that was some, well, 16 years old by that point, did the entire race on his own. There was a chap called Tom Clark who was suited and booted in the pits, waiting to take over, but every time Hall came in, he waved him away and carried on. Clark was the very definition of a spare part. (laughs) Hall finished eighth in Le Mans on his own. I mean, it’s extraordinary.

He completed 236 laps at an average of 83 miles an hour. That’s just under 2,000 miles, 1,978 miles on his own. Jenks, Denis Jenkinson, the famous motoring correspondent, asked him in later years, what he did for comfort breaks, and Hall, with a twinkle in his eye, looked to Jenkinsen and said,

“Green overalls, old boy!” It is an extraordinary feat, and one which has never been repeated since, and never will be either, because the Automobile Club de l’Ouest subsequently outlawed such antics. There is some doubt about whether, maybe Hall could’ve done the whole race on his own, but something that sort of does point towards the fact

That he might have been able to is the fact that the Talbot-Lago that won that year was driven by a father and son pairing, the only father and son pairing to win Le Mans, the Rosiers. But the thing is father did all but two laps,

Seemingly not trusting his son to do any more than that. So he popped out early in the morning, did a bit of mechanicing on the car, told his son to go and do two laps, presumably very carefully, and then father hopped back in again,

Having given himself a wash and had a quick drink and he completed the race. Luigi Chinetti had done something similar the year before when he won in a Ferrari 166-M. So it clearly was possible to drive for the full 24 hours. But Hall, in this Bentley, was the only one to actually do it. Now, to give me a chance to wipe some water

Off the camera lens, here’s me having a walk in the woods. A fun little detail about this car is that all its owners are connected to that 1950 Le Mans, obviously Eddie Hall, but then he sold the car to Briggs Cunningham. Now, he was racing in the car that finished 11th in 1950,

But he also entered the car that finished 10th. Now, that was being raced by Miles and Sam Collier and their son and nephew respectively, was also called Miles Collier. And he inherited Briggs Cunningham’s collection and set up, well, the Revs Institute, which owns the car today. So the engine is, say, is four and a quarter liters, straight-six, twin SU carbs. Suspension, we got four semi elliptic springs. The steering is worm and gear steering, big wheel. It’s pretty cramped in here. I know I’m tall, but I can only assume that Eddie Hall must have been a good deal shorter than me. In the race, he had a sort of pretty ugly

Closed roof on this, which I suppose might’ve made things better. I’m sure it made it a bit more fumy inside. We’ve got 163 brake horsepower in this final four and a quarter liter iteration. So it started off with about 110, then went up to about 130, and then up to 163.

The heel bolts are surprisingly nice actually, it’s surprisingly easy, a bit tricky on the way back down. You do definitely need to heel and toe. What a lovely sound as well on straight-six exhausts. This is not quite the silent sports car. It’s all the better for it.

The steering is surprisingly sort of accurate actually. Throttle response is lovely. Even the brakes, we’ve got drum brakes all around. And they give you some sort of confidence. It really is a car that you want to get into a rhythm with, sort of settle into it.

It’s really not that scary to drive at all. It’s lovely coming through these trees as well. Probably not too dissimilar to Le Mans back in the day. Certainly, out on that sort of run from Mulsanne down to Indianapolis, I should think, where it was still narrow in 1950.

What this must have been like at night, I mean, the two big land pods on the front of this weren’t actually there, it was just three smaller ones below in the center. What a real privilege. Wonderful. A wonderful car indeed. But as I said at the start, this film wasn’t really about the machinery. After all, it’s not exceptional for a car to do the whole of Le Mans for all its 100 years. That’s rather been the point. But for one man to go it alone with a car,

Now that’s a story that stands out. And Eddie Hall, little known though he may be, was the sort of man that made stories wherever he went, from La Sarthe to Ulster to Brooklands. Cheers, old boy. – Been a very, very good race and I hope everybody’s happy. And very glad to have brought something home to Yorkshire once again. Cheerio.